2015 Year in Review: Leigh-Ann Horne, Licensed Veterinary Technician

It’s time to look back on 2015! Check our blog between Christmas and New Year’s for a variety of stories and memories of 2015 from the staff and volunteers of the Wildlife Center of Virginia.

During a year of 478 releases (and counting), there is one release that stands out to me. Red-tailed Hawk 15-0021 was admitted on January 13, 2015, as a referral case from a local rehabber. The bird was found down in a field in Page County and was unable to fly. After a few days, the rescuers were able to catch her and noticed that her feet were clenched and she would not relax them. After some supportive care from the local rehabilitator, a volunteer transporter drove the bird to the Center for further evaluation.

Initial exams and diagnostics revealed that the bird arrived with an old fracture near the shoulder, weakened flight muscles, wounds to both feet, severe neurologic deficiencies, and a blood lead level four times higher than what could lead to heart and vision dysfunction. Radiographs revealed that the source of the lead toxicity was lead shot lodged in the gut of the bird. A few days later, the hawks’ respiration started to deteriorate and she was moved into a Critical Care Chamber with supplemental oxygen. The bird spent about a month in this Critical Care Chamber before she was stable enough to be weaned off.

Over the course of two months, the Red-tail was given three rounds of medicine to help chelate the lead from her system; she was also given supportive care. Multiple in-house lead tests and complete blood counts were performed to not only monitor the blood lead levels, but also the high white blood cell counts and presence of blood parasites.

The bird was finally well enough to be moved to a small outside enclosure on March 9. This was an exciting day and seemed to be a real turning point for the patient. A month later the bird was moved to a flight pen and the rehab team was able to start easy exercise. Unfortunately, at the end of April, the bird became depressed and had to be put back into a smaller outside pen, and then even had to be moved back inside for close monitoring. The bird was telling us she just wasn’t quite ready yet.

In May, we tried again to move the bird outside, this time, she was ready and was able to be successfully flight conditioned. It was a slow process and the rehab team did a great job of not pushing her too hard. The hawk’s flight muscles had been weak at admission and had deteriorated while she was critically ill. It took three months of exercise to get her stamina where it needed to be for release.

After 212 days in care, Red-tailed hawk 15-0021 was released on August 13 in Shenandoah County. The emotions and effort invested in this bird were intense. We had gone from checking on her first thing each morning to see if she had made it through the night to knowing that she was healthy and back out in the wild. It is the absolute highlight of my job.

The bird’s recovery was due to so many people – the rehabilitator who stabilized the patient, the volunteer transporter who drove the bird to us, the donors who provide the equipment that saves lives, the amazing veterinary staff I feel so privileged to work with, the rehab staff that worked at the bird’s pace to get her ready to go, and the outreach and admin team that put together an event to release this Red-tailed Hawk. This team effort and the inspiring fight to live that the bird possessed is what I remember most about 2015.


Keep checking the Wildlife Center's blog for more year-end posts this week!